I was at a Small Business conference in September looking to learn from owners of SMB’s. At lunch, the conversation came around to who was using software as a service (SaaS) to run parts of their business. I leaned forward, eager to hear how SaaS had revolutionized each of these companies, only to be completely blown away with disappointment. Not only had SaaS offerings not taken over the front and back office of each of these small businesses, but the conversation actually turned to a comparison between SaaS and Betamax – yes – software-as-a-service was being called a “fad.”
So I started asking questions – trying to unlock the secrets that could help us gain an advantage in the SaaS and PaaS game and create massive adoption. But other than security fears, there were no real concrete dissentions. They loved the pay as you go subscription of most SaaS offerings, they loved the enhanced collaboration and the lower IT & infrastructure costs. They were very excited about the constant upgrades and 24/7 reliability. In fact, they loved most everything we think about when we think about SaaS – BUT – there was minimal adoption.
Then one of the Small Business owners blurted out, “It may be silly, but mentally, it’s just weird to think about running my customer service program from the same thing I check ESPN.com on.” BINGO – That’s when it hit me – What if we’ve been doing SaaS wrong this whole time? What if all of us early adopters who like the thrill of going from 0 to 100 in 3.2 seconds and enjoy the risk of catastrophic failure, forgot to look back and pave the road for the real people who matter – the businesses who generate real revenue and employ real people and can’t afford catastrophic failure?
When Benioff championed “No Software,” I think we screwed up a little. What he should have said was “Better Software”. Software isn’t the problem – we just interpreted the steps to the future poorly. What we really needed to develop was “connected software.” Applications running within the browser are awesome – but maybe they’re SaaS 2.0 – In our excitement, we forgot to deliver SaaS 1.0 – Desktop applications that are connected to the web and are sold as a service.
Most businesses use desktop apps today. They’re comfortable with the UI and the installation process and even the registration process. What if we built the next generation of SaaS apps as “desktop connected” apps with tools like Adobe Air, that people can click on and run locally, but still leverage the benefits of “the cloud”? I’m betting we’ll see more rapid adoption of “SaaS” offerings and pave that road to browser based apps. Consumer apps like Facebook will lead the mental charge towards the browser, but we need that suite of desktop connected apps that moves businesses into the SaaS/service/cloud mindset and away from traditional software.
I’d like to eliminate the installed app too – but maybe we need to walk before we can zoom. If we don’t bring the masses along with us, it’s going to be pretty lonely up in the clouds.